In the heyday of Dutch soccer in the 1970s, the nation rose to the top of the world by embracing “total football.” It was a concept that meant that players could swap out positions anywhere on the pitch, delivering a fluid, seamless attack to keep its rivals off-guard.
Perhaps in a similar way, Jumbo-Visma is trying to do a cycling version of the full-court press in 2020. Unlike many of its top rivals that might specialize in just one facet of racing, the rising Dutch powerhouse is trying to do it all.
“It is ‘total cycling’ like in the 1970s you had ‘total football,’” said Jumbo-Visma manager Richard Plugge. “That’s the way forward in cycling.
“Our culture is that we all put 100 percent to win it as a team,” Plugge told VeloNews. “Everyone has individual ambitions, but everyone sees that you, as the individual, has a better chance to win if the team is winning.”
In 2019, Plugge’s philosophy started to pay off in spades. The team scored its first franchise grand tour victory with Primoz Roglic in the Vuelta a España, and it notched podiums at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. Van Aert continued on his tremendous progression, while Groenewegen won 15 sprints across the season.
While Team Ineos might be dominant in the Tour de France, and Deceuninck-Quick-Step rule the classics, no team is as diverse and balanced as Plugge’s troops.
Plugge has patiently built up his program from the ashes of the scandals in 2012 that saw longtime sponsor Rabobank exit the sport. Lance Armstrong’s doping confessions unleashed a cascade of similar mea culpas across Dutch cycling, prompting Rabobank to end its decades-long backing of the team.
Plugge, who was then the communications director, took over ownership of the team and did what he could to keep the team together. He endured some lean years, racing as “Blanco” and briefly as Belkin before JumboNL and Jumbo provided stability. About five years ago, Plugge started to rebuild the base with an eye toward “total cycling.”
“In the beginning it was three years of surviving. We tried to find a sponsor and keep the team afloat,” he said. “2015 was a big year for us. I had a vision on how we can run a team and do things differently, but it wasn’t until 2015 that we could really start to do it.”
Part of that philosophy was engendering a strong sense of teamwork and sacrifice for the larger good. At first glance, that doesn’t seem like anything new for cycling, especially since it’s a team sport. In contrast to the past, it’s not about winning with just one leader, but rather going to a race with several leaders, and race as a unit to deliver victory for the team even if that means sacrificing individual interests.
Plugge and his staff have been able to instill a unique winning spirit inside the team that is starting to pay off big dividends.
For a long time, the team leaned on team stalwarts like Robert Gesink and Steven Kruijswijk while it developed homegrown talent. Roglic was an unknown factor when he joined the team in 2016, but soon started posting promising results. Momentum surged going into 2019, when Plugge’s vision was starting to come into fruition. The team landed van Aert, and Groenewegen came into his own in the sprints.
“We saw if you work together you can achieve more,” he said. “We can beat the big teams only if everyone puts in 100 percent. That is one of the most important changes for us in the past years.”
Going into 2020, Plugge’s “total cycling” will be hitting all the marks. Groenewegen will have his chances in the sprints while van Aert, recovering from injuries, should be a force again in the classics and provide a huge engine in stage racing.
It’s in the grand tours where Jumbo-Visma is expected to demonstrate its biggest ambitions.
The arrival of Dumoulin should put Jumbo-Visma on the front line as the team that could seriously challenge Ineos’s stranglehold on the Tour. Early indications suggest that Dumoulin will focus on the Giro, and then race the Tour to help Roglic.
“Before Tom came to the team we already spoke with the riders,” Plugge said. “Tom gets it, and so do the others. The chance for the individual to win a grand tour is bigger if you have two or even three riders who have a real chance to win it. That’s what everybody understands.”
This “total cycling” concept is catching on with other teams as well. Ineos will go to the 2020 Tour with three former winners on its roster, assuming Chris Froome is back at full strength, along with Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal.
“You see it on other teams. Like this stage at the Tour that was canceled, [Egan] Bernal was up the road, and if the stage had finished, it would have been us to chase down Bernal, and Thomas would have won the Tour,” Plugge said. “The chance to win it is bigger if you have a strong leader next to you.”
That’s what Dumoulin and Roglic will be hoping for going into 2020.